mRNA technology transfer hub for vaccines to be a game-changer

Those are the reflections of the Department of Science and Technology’s Deputy Director-General for Technology Innovation, Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, in an interview with SAnews.

Devdiscourse News Desk | Pretoria | Updated: 09-12-2021 15:25 IST | Created: 09-12-2021 15:25 IST
mRNA technology transfer hub for vaccines to be a game-changer
Representative image Image Credit: ANI
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The African continent's first messenger RNA (mRNA) technology transfer hub for COVID-19 vaccines will be a game-changer for the continent.

"When outbreaks like COVID-19 happen, the whole world rallies around developing new technologies and vaccines. But we don't know that we will have the same response if there is an outbreak that is only ravaging the African continent. So if we don't build our own capabilities, then we will have a problem."

Those are the reflections of the Department of Science and Technology's Deputy Director-General for Technology Innovation, Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, in an interview with SAnews.

As the African continent continues to lag behind in its COVID-19 vaccination numbers, the hub promises to build on the continent's vaccine development and manufacturing capabilities – putting the continent well on its way to self-sufficiency.

"One of the things that we are planning to do at the hub is not just to look at what exists but it's to say how can we build on what's already existing to make better vaccines.

"For example, some of the [current COVID-19] vaccines demand storage [at] -70 degrees. Now, our plan is not to manufacture a vaccine that requires that because we are in a different context. We want these vaccines to be able to be distributed to our rural areas and parts of the continent where they might be having challenges like ours," Dr Muofhe said.

This as South Africa's Department of Science and Innovation is convening a multi-stakeholder forum today, in collaboration with local and international partners, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Themed: "Strengthening Africa's vaccine manufacturing capacity through the South African mRNA technology transfer hub," Thursday's forum is the first open dialogue on the establishment of this hub set to teach African manufacturers how to make mRNA vaccines, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The vaccine development hub is established by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), together with a host of partners including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), Afrigen Biologics, the Biovac Institute, a network of universities and research institutes coordinated by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention ( Africa CDC).

Dr Muofhe added that in a world beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, the hub will play a substantial role in the continent's fight against other diseases and illnesses.

"The good thing about this is that we are using the mRNA technology as a platform and from that platform, we also want to manufacture other vaccines. When we are done with COVID then we are also going to say how do we then go into flu, how do we maybe go into Tuberculosis, how do we maybe go into HIV and AIDS and all other problematic diseases. This technology then becomes some sort of scaffolding on the basis off which we build," he said.

In June, it was announced that the WHO was working with South Africa to establish the continent's first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, a move that was hailed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Messenger RNA, or mRNA technology, instructs cells to make a protein that generates an immune response in the body, producing antibodies that protect against disease.

Muofhe highlighted that the fact that South Africa was chosen to house the hub is a testament to the world-class standards of South African scientists.

"The reason why we got to be the first host is because as a country we have already invested a lot in scientific research and development and that has created the backbone…whether you are talking about the role that our universities can play, whether you talk about our science councils. [That] has been the core of why we got this hub.

"Sometimes people don't understand that making a vaccine is not just like baking bread. You have to get people that are really trained and train them over a long period. So that is why when we talk about building this capability, we need to see it for what it really is. It really is high tech science that we're talking about," he said.

(With Inputs from South African Government Press Release)

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